I loved my eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Israel. He was such a hard-ass and commanded attention. I was slightly scared of him, but mostly, I wanted to impress him. He wasn’t one of those teachers who showed his like of you. With some teachers, you just knew they liked you. He wasn’t so easily swayed. He was one of my favorites for this, for this inability to have favorites. In his class, I mostly remember learning grammar. He once quizzed us asking us to write the shortest possible sentence. The answer was: I am. “No,” is not a sentence. A sentence, he insisted needed a subject. He fascinated me. Then when class was over, he’d slip out of the room and run his hand along the tiled walls of the school, rocking almost, as if he were in his own world and hadn’t just escaped from ours.
He once told this class of eighth graders that excellent performance on SAT exams was largely determined for us, when we were children. “If your parents read aloud to you, studies have shown, that you’ll perform better.” I think he meant overall, and not necessarily with regard to test scores. I’ve always loved being read to. Story time with a dreamy lamp and coloring book before me. Each and every night my parents read me bedtime stories. My favorites, though, where when they made them up. My mother had already read me something, but I’d beg her to stay, so she’d promise a quick story with the lights off. Then she’d make up something about twins, Clara and Tara, who fought at school. Clara put Nair in Tara’s shampoo bottle. These are the stories my mother told me. And I remember them fondly. Twisted, but fondly. I hope I’m the same way, reading them twisted stories, inappropriate for children, assuming they’ll never remember. Reading aloud is always a good thing, even when you’re slightly freakish.
So I’m going to start reading aloud to the guppies, now. Okay, I’m not. But I do sing to them when I’m in the car, alone. The Suitor sings into my stomach at night. Sadly it’s the alphabet song. He does it in a deep voice, which sounds nothing like him.
“Why do you do that?” I ask.
“Because they can hear me.”
“But why do you use that Darth Vader voice?”
“Because it’s soothing.”
Then I look at him with my head cocked to the side while saying, “I do not think so,” in a Spanish accent, as if I’m Inigo Montoya. “They’re going to come out, and unless you talk like James Earl Jones all the time, they won’t know it’s you.” Still, I think it’s adorable that he sings to them. I just wish he’d vary it up sometimes. It gets a little boring.
My grandfather is bored, too. He has pretty much lost his vision completely, so he cannot read the paper. He cannot watch a ballgame. And now, he is no longer mobile. He’s in a wheelchair. Blind. He phoned me the other day to tell me he was bored, but he didn’t say it. He just said, “there’s no family. There’s nothing to do.” I sighed. “But,” he added now hopeful, “I’m going to have a nurse read your book aloud to me.” OH DEAR GOD, NO. Reading aloud is not always a good thing! I cannot imagine the look on a nurse’s face when she’s asked to read about my sticking my finger up a guy’s ass to an old man, blind, in a wheelchair. I better call my father and make sure he doesn’t let any of my grandfather’s nurses read to him from Straight Up and Dirty. “How’s the other book coming?” he asked.
“Good. Thanks for sending all those letters I’d sent to you at camp.”
“Yeah, that book’s about the fatty farm, huh?”
“And are you happy?” he asked.